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Community members from Gresham, Sandy and Estacada reflect on memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

COURTESY PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION - The north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

If you've seen any movie set in New York City between 1973 and 2001, you've likely caught a glimpse of the now long-lost World Trade Center. Whether you got lost in the Big Apple with a young Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone 2," marveled as King Kong scaled the towers in the 1976 remake of the iconic film or watched Melanie Griffith climb the corporate ladder from within the walls of 7 World Trade Center in "Working Girl," you've seen the buildings that have become an icon of modern American history and a symbol of remembrance of the 9/11 attacks.

Withh American troops leaving Afghanistan and 20 years separating us from the attacks,Americans who lived through it, as well as those who were not yet born, continue to acknowledge the emotional toll caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the hijacking and crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

Sandy High School history teacher Jon Cohrs was teaching in Sweet Home on Sept. 11, 2001, and says the topic of the attacks quickly took over his history and journalism classes.

"I got to allow it to play out in my classrooms in different ways," Cohrs explains. "Our student newspaper at the time ran within the town newspaper, so the community could also see what the students were publishing. That gave the students voices about their fears and their concerns at that time. That was neat for students to be able to express their feelings, their insecurity around that event. Something like that hadn't happened in our lifetimes, not since 1941, so that becomes a very important reflection point. There's this mindset that things like that don't happen to us; we're Americans. Well, it did. And how does that change us?"

Cohrs teaches lessons now on the changes that came about because of 9/11. Among those lessons are insights into the changing views of Americans who witnessed the attacks and their subsequent responses to passage of the The Patriot Act, launch of the War on Terror and a heightened distrust of immigrants. He also teaches how those who were born after the terrorist attacks grew up with these realities as their normal America.

Nowadays, Cohrs shows his students the movie "Miracle" — the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team — and points out the then-still-standing World Trade Center towers in the background, asking them to identify the now-lost landmark. Though they never saw them when they were still standing, the students can easily name the towers.

Around this time every year, Cohrs asks his students to research and identify a song they think best depicts America. Many choose country titles written after 9/11 that reflect that time in history.

"A lot of them come to songs about strength, unity and memories that those attacks precipitated," Cohrs explains. "It gives us an opportunity to talk about what is patriotism and what is nationalism. (This one event) provides an access point for other lessons. We try to situate students, so they really experience (what it was like to live during this time, even if they didn't)."

PMG FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW  - Steel workers begin the lengthy process of dismantling the remains of the World trade Towers just days after the attacks. Rescue personnel could only wait until these large sections were cleared to search the areas below.

Cohrs' colleague Julie Frederick also teaches history at Sandy, and was working as a reporter for the Mountain Times on Sept. 11, 2001.

Frederick remembers waking up early that morning, feeling inexplicably uneasy.

"I just had this feeling of impending doom," she explained. Frederick said she'd just flown back from Hawaii the day before, staying for the night at her mother's near Portland International Airport and on Sept. 11 the "skies were quiet."

Frederick added that the next day she and her neighbors from Brightwood gathered and went to Sandy to wave American flags and pray along Highway 26 near Fir Hill Cemetery to show solidarity after the attacks.

"There was this sense of community and coming together," she explained. "It was so sad, and we just wanted to be together."

In her history classes, Frederick uses personal narratives of from those who knew people lost in the attacks, or of survivors themselves, to "give students insight."

She also has her students ask folks at home about their recollections of 9/11.

"I think this year (with the anniversary) we're going to have the best conversations come out of this," Frederick explained.

Schools for Kabul

Years before Cohrs or Frederick came to Sandy High, Bert Key taught civics and American history to the school's upperclassmen.

He was teaching when 9/11 happened and that day convened his classes in the common area so students could watch what was happening and discuss the events of the day. He was a reservist for the Army at the time, and in 2003 his unit was called up to prepare to go overseas. In 2004, he landed in Afghanistan and spent about 10 months helping build schools and teach before he was retired and sent home.

Key said serving in Afghanistan was a lot different than any of the time he spent in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Korea or Vietnam.

"I had a different job in the Marines (in Vietnam)," Key explained. "There was a lot of fighting, death and destruction. Coming back from that war, I was an old man in a young man's body."PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Bert Key served as part of the social reserves in Afghanistan, working as a teacher to help rebuild the Afghan society through education.

"In Afghanistan, we had the role of rebuilding society," he added. "That country had been torn down for years with schools and post offices shut down. You'd run into teenage girls who'd never been to school (and) there were 14-year-old girls taking first grade classes."

Aside from educating children overseas, Key also sent information to colleagues and students back at Sandy High, telling of his experiences and of events in Afghanistan.

"Those kids knew a lot more about what was going on than other citizens," Key explained.

Because of his work, and his disdain for the Taliban's treatment of the Afghan people, Key said he would've volunteered to serve in Afghanistan if he could have.

The attack on the Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school in Kabul on May 8, 2021, came as incredibly disheartening news to Key who had helped build the building school. The attack killed at least 90 people — many of them girls — and wounded many more.

Key is further frustrated by the takeover by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the collapse of the Afghan military and government.

"It just galls me that those (the Taliban) are the leaders of a country," Key said. "Some of the great things I think we did there was building hospitals, schools and roads and setting up electricity. I felt good about that, especially as an educator. It tickled my heart to see kids walking to school."

A sense of fear

Though Pat McAbery, a firefighter working out of Gresham Fire Station 72, wasn't at the World Trade Center that fateful day in 2001 and didn't fight in the War on Terror, but he clearly remembers where he was when the planes collided with the towers.

"I was getting off my shift, and everybody in the station was just glued to the TV trying to understand what was happening,"McAbery said. "I watched that for a little bit and then I drove home."

On the way to his home in Sandy McAbery was listening to the radio as the second tower collapsed.

"I was coming home to my pregnant wife, and just thought to myself, 'what kind of world am I bringing this kid into,' "McAbery said.

As McAbery pondered that question, he also noticed a new sense of fear that surfaced after the attacks.

People were hyper aware of when McAbery and his crews would enter a grocery store or building. PMG FILE PHOTO - James Moriarty, pictured next to the Estacada Veterans Memorial, worked at the U.S. Border Patrol on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The most interesting thing to see was the six weeks after, when we would (turn on) our sirens, traffic would part like never before,"McAbery remembered. "I don't know if it was a new-found respect for us, or if people were just scared."

Seeing the start of a new agency

Estacada resident James Moriarty was working for the U.S. Border Patrol when his father called to inform him about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"He was really worried," Moriarty recalled. "He was in kindergarten when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and he was a pilot in the Army. He goes, 'You have to turn on the TV.' And that was when the second plane hit the tower."

In the days prior to the attack, Moriarty had been on the clock for 26 hours. It was his sixth year as a member of the border patrol after serving in the U.S. Army, and he and a group of team members had been working on a smuggling case. His supervisor had sent the team home, so he wasn't at work on the morning of Sept. 11.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the port of entry in San Ysidro, Calif., where Moriarty was stationed, was temporarily closed.

"It was crippling. Commerce stopped," he recalled. "It was the largest port of entry, and it was closed. That says a lot."

Moriarty noted that many of his colleagues felt uncertain during this time.

One positive element that stood out to Moriarty in the aftermath of the attacks was the way in which people across the country supported each other.

"Everybody came together," he recalled. "The whole nation was transformed overnight. Party ideology was out the window. Everyone worked together. It was amazing."

A year after the attacks, the Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Border Patrol were incorporated into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security

Moriarty said elements of transition were difficult, but he appreciated that the department received additional funding and equipment.

He added that it's difficult to believe that the attacks happened 20 years ago.

"It was a game changer for the agency. We created an entire new agency — Homeland Security," Moriarty said.

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